PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Nearly every elected official in Providence skipped an event hosted by Mayor Jorge Elorza Friday, sparing themselves from having to cross a picket line created by a group of the city’s firefighters.
Elorza asked all 36 of the city’s elected officials – including representatives, senators and the City Council – to attend a happy hour event at a Federal Hill restaurant, but most decided not to attend once they learned the firefighters would be picketing outside.
An hour into the event, only Reps. Grace Diaz and Edith Ajello were in attendance. Diaz works on the mayor’s staff.
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Elorza declined to comment on why he thought his colleagues in government skipped the event, but repeatedly said he’s committed to addressing the city’s “out of control overtime costs.”
The mayor and the union are locked in an increasingly hostile dispute over Elorza’s decision to move from four fire platoons to three, a change that requires firefighters to go from working an average of 42 hours per week to an average of 56 hours a week.
Elorza maintains the changes will ultimately save the city $5 million in callback overtime costs a year, but the union is challenging the compensation aspect of the new system in court. The union has argued that its existing contract calls for members to be paid time-and-a-half for working more than 42 hours in a week. Elorza gave them an 8% pay increase when he ordered the changes Aug. 2.
Last week Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear ruled the two sides could go to grievance arbitration, a decision that was widely considered an initial victory for the union. Lawyers for the city asked the judge to dismiss the union’s complaint altogether this week.
Friday’s picket included only members of the union’s executive board, according to union president Paul Doughty. The group, dressed in dark suits and ties, carried signs with Elorza’s picture that read, “the reason we need unions.”